21 December 2015

A (belated) 1774 Merry-Christmas message from William Pitt

William Pitt was not known for writing letters on time. Although not a regular correspondent, his letters are delightful, amusing, and self-deprecating. His belated 1774 Christmas message to his former tutor Edward Wilson is no exception. 

William's older sister Lady Hester had married Lord Mahon earlier in December 1774, and she now resided at Chevening Estate in Kent. Meanwhile, William and his parents spent the holidays at Hayes Place, near Bromley. He was just 15 years old at the time:

"Hayes, December 27th, 1774

My Dear Sir,

My Brother Sportsman [William's younger brother James] is this Morning sallied into the field, full of high Expectations. The remains of a trifling Cold, and partly inclination have prevented Me from being of the Party. Tho I have not the Cry of the Hounds to rouse me from my Bed, I am up with a design of writing to you before Breakfast, as Engagements woud interrupt me after, at the early Hour of Nine [am], so early indeed, that, at some distance from the Window, I am scarcely able to see. In the Dark, however, I trust I am able, to scribble the warmest Wishes for a Merry-Christmas, tho the Offering I confess is somewhat late, to yourself and the whole fire-side of the Parsonage [at Binfield, Berkshire, where Wilson was now Rector]. Without any Chronological Error, I may yet enlarge on the latter part of the Compliments of the Season. May the New-Year often return with encreasing happiness, to you and yours, till at length it seats the Rector of Binfield, in the Golden Canonry of Windsor, or wherever else his future wishes may lead him.
Our Christmas Circle seem'd on a very reduc'd scale [Lady Hester had just married, and Lord Pitt - William's older brother John - was at Quebec], in comparison of what We remember, nor have We had so much as a letter from Quebec [from Lord Pitt] to enliven It. Captain Hood and Mrs. Hood came to us yesterday and are Here now. They will probably leave us this Morning when We expect The Bride and Bride-Groom [William's sister and her new husband] from Chevening which will be a valuable Addition to our Society...A letter has been received from The House giving an account of the Celebration last Monday Sennight at Burton [Pynsent] and Curry [Rivel, the nearby village]. As much of It, as the best Decypherers made out, relates Hogsheads of Cyder, Bonfires, &c &c, but unfortunately, as the greatest part of It, defeats all Their Art, We yet remain ignorant of the Particulars of this Festivity. My Tender Conscience suggests to me that this Letter of my own may be subject to the same difficulties, but as I am summon'd to Breakfast, I have no other atonement in my Power, but writing my name legible, in which if I succeed, I trust you will believe me to be sincerely Your ever affectionate W. Pitt.
Distribute my kindest Compliments and every good Wish that suits the season, to all Quarters of the Parsonage."


William Pitt to Rev. Edward Wilson, Rector of Binfield. December 27, 1774. Pitt Papers, Duke University, North Carolina. 

9 October 2015

'A Captivated Sailor': James Charles Pitt's childhood love poem

At the age of ten, James Charles Pitt (1761-1780), the youngest son of the Earl of Chatham, addressed a love poem to Lady Elizabeth Pratt (c. 1752-1826). She was a daughter of the first Lord Camden, and the two families were well-acquainted with one another. James was 10 at the time the poem was penned; Eliza was 19. 

I've always been fascinated by love affairs that fall through the cracks, and this piece is one such historical mystery.

It's intriguing how the cataloguer left a deliberate blank after the line "Verses addressed to..." I'm also copying out James's poem, shown below. 

"Struck by the beauties of thy heavenly charms
To thee Eliza I address my lays
Your kind indulgence my rapt bosom warms
And prompts my soul to sing your wond'rous praise

What form majestick & what easy grace
Yet still interior shines thy polish'd mind
And proves thee offspring of great Camdens race
Each sweet accomplishment in thee I find

Deign thee t'accept this humble grateful song
And trust my lov'd one tho' I flow the main

And pass thro dangers & thro labours long
My heart with thee still captive shall remain"

It ends with "A Captivated Sailor, June ye 9th 1771"

James was destined for the navy, and he would have been aware of his intended career path even at that early age. We don't know what Lady Elizabeth thought of James's childhood crush on her. She was significantly older than him, so she may have been more amused than anything by his boyish advances.


Pitt MSS. Duke University, North Carolina.

** I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Jacqueline Reiter for correcting me on the details of Lady Elizabeth Pratt. 

28 August 2015

Why was Pitt down in late August 1804?

Pitt's second ministry had begun in May 1804 under inauspicious circumstances. Britain was at war again with the Emperor Napoleon, and the pressure placed upon Pitt would have been astronomical. A sad glimpse of Pitt's mental state at the time was conveyed in a letter from Lavinia, the Countess Spencer, to her husband (and First Lord of the Admiralty) George, 2nd Earl Spencer. Writing on 31 August 1804, Lavinia told her spouse of Pitt's depressed demeanour after an unnamed 'man of business' saw him walking alone on the Mall (and St. James's Park):

“...a sensible well judging man of business (Imagine in the ordnance) who is much accustomed to transact affairs with Mr. Pitt [told a servant of Lavinia, Countess Spencer] of an interview which he had yesterday with this upright statesman [Pitt] - this Friend of Kross’s told him that he had for many years been in the habit of being tête a tête with him [Pitt] on business, & that he had seen him under circumstances which woud have appal’d the stoutest heart, & Calm, Collected & unoccupied did he always find him - but that Yesterday, what produced such an effect he coud not take upon him to say, He never saw a Man so utterly absorbed in profound thought, & so compleatly under the influence of anxiety & dejection - so that by no means coud he, the Man of business, make him Mr. Pitt attend one moment to that subject under which brought them together - this, Kross said, so struck his friend, that he himself had caught the same impression & he coud not but believe that what he had heard from various quarters was but too true namely that the K.[ing] is downright ill. - A very pretty kettle of fish! Oh goodness! - Harrison, of himself, asked me what was the matter with Mr. Pitt for that he believed him to be a diing [sic] man from his appearance - he Harrison was walking in the park Yesterday Morning very early, & he saw before him a Man walking by himself with his arms across, & apparently so taken up in thought & walking so uncommonly slow & unequally that it gave him a curiosity to see who it coud be, & on overtaking him he saw it was Mr. Pitt looking like death with his eyes staring out of his head & steadfastly fixed on the ground before him - Harrison says he coud hardly help starting at the oddity of the whole thing - for he believes Mr. Pitt never was seen walking up & down the Mall by himself Solus cum Solus (that’s good latin I am sure) before." [1]

Although the Countess attributed Pitt's mood to the King's failing health, it  is difficult to determine the nature of his affliction. More on the potential causes of Pitt's poor health in 1804 will be discussed in a future post.

1. Lavinia, Countess Spencer to her husband George, 2nd Earl Spencer. Friday 31 August 1804. British Library, Althorp MSS 75931. 

3 June 2015

Pitt's last prescription

Mr. Edwards, Surgeon at Putney

It appears William Pitt's last prescription was written out on January 21, 1806 - two days before his death. A 'Mr. Edwards, Surgeon at Putney' was involved in Pitt's case, along with Sir Walter Farquhar (Pitt's usual physician from the mid-1790s onwards), Matthew Baillie (a nephew of the Hunter family), and Henry Revell Reynolds. 

William Pitt's last prescription, Jan. 21, 1806

Sadly, this concoction did not succeed in restoring Pitt's rapidly deteriorating health, and he succumbed on the morning of 23 January 1806 at the age of only 46.


Pitt MSS. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Room. Duke University, North Carolina. 

4 March 2015

Sir John Soane's work for Edward James Eliot

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) by Samuel Drummond (1812)

In a previous post, I touched upon Sir John Soane's work with Edward James Eliot, and I included a bill drawn up by one of Soane's clerks to Eliot's executors. I originally believed that Edward James Eliot did not consider living in his own house - that is, away from Downing Street, the home he shared with his friend and brother in-law William Pitt the younger - until the autumn of 1791. He had become a widower in September 1786 when his wife, Lady Harriot Eliot, died shortly after giving birth to their first child, and he seemed in no hurry to leave his brother in-law's residence. In 1787, he wrote to their mutual friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Pretyman, asking her to 

"...tell Him [Pitt] ... my Heart Begins to fail me about leaving his House [Downing St], as yet, if Ever.” [1] Therefore, I believed that Eliot did not begin drawing up plans for houses until the summer of 1792 at the earliest.  Apparently, I was mistaken.

I've recently been conducting research at the Sir John Soane Museum's library, and I found some invaluable information regarding not only Soane's dealings with Pitt's Holwood estate, but also his lengthy work for Edward James Eliot. Soane's first recorded trip to Holwood was on April 17, 1786. [2] It seems Eliot must have heard about the architect's growing reputation. There are several records in Soane's ledgers in relation to Edward James Eliot that date from as early as June 18, 1787.  A 'Mr. Rolleston' paid Soane £190:0:0 for Eliot's rent, but overpaid by £2 due to "an Error in the Land Tax," [3] and had to be refunded the difference. In February 1788, the dealings between Soane and Eliot continued. Soane received £100 from Eliot on February 7th, and the following day Soane "Paid Riley of Long Acre Rent of House...£92:11:0." [4] The bill for these transactions were settled, and the next entry comes on November 10, 1790 where Soane "Surveyed & Valued Sir J. Skinner's House in Bedford Square." [5] Then in March 1791, he "Surveyd Capt. Lewis's house at Clapham Common," and "Sent Mr. Eliot the Valuation of Capt. Lewis's house, and plan of the same," including his fee for a hired chaise and "Paid advertising for a Villa in Kent." [6] 

Throughout 1792, plans and designs for houses in Sydenham, Chislehurst, Roehampton and Clapham were made for Eliot by Soane [7]. In September 1792, Eliot even enclosed one of Soane's plans for a house in Clapham in a letter he wrote to Mrs. Pretyman [8]. Next, Soane made a "Sketch of the Plan of Sir R.M. Keith's house, and of three houses in Spring Gardens" for Eliot on November 13, 1793, and then in November 1795, he "Enclosed Mr. Willock's Sketch, Particular, and Valuation of Mr. Montague's House at Shooter's Hill & attending Mr. Willock, &c." [9] Spring Gardens was located near modern-day Trafalgar Square, and a short distance from Downing Street, and he was familiar with the area from the early 1780s. 

Eliot never paid Soane before his death in mid-September 1797, and a bill was consequently written out to Eliot's executors on April 16, 1798. His brother Mr. John Eliot also had Soane work for him throughout the 1790s: one property was at 22 Bedford Square, and another at 11 Downing Street [10]. I believe the two brothers perhaps had joint architectural ventures, hence the overlap in their bills. John Eliot settled the payment for his late brother on June 7, 1799, giving Soane £41:13:1 [11]. 

Identical to the one preserved at Pembroke College in Cambridge, the bill to the Executors of The Hon Edward James Eliot, lists the following still to be paid:

"1791 Mar 15 Surveyd Captain Lewis’s house at Clapham Common
29th Sent Mr. Eliot the Valuation of Captain Lewis’s house & Plan of the same, Chaise hire - £6:6:0
Aug 8 Paid advertising for a Villa in Kent £0:16:0
Nov 17 Clerk’s time & expences to Sydenham, Chislehurst, & Roehampton to look at Houses & making Plans of three Houses £4:4:0

1792 Aug 23 Making two Designs for Houses £3:3:0

Total: £14:9:0

Wrote out June 7, 1799" [12]

Upon receipt of payment from Mr. John Eliot, Edward's account with Sir John Soane was closed. 


1. Edward James Eliot to George Pretyman. January 16, 1787. The Kent History and Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C35/1.

2. Soane Museum Archive: Soane's visits to The Right Honourable William Pitt's Holwood villa. Journal 1, ff. 58-59.

3. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for June 18 - September 21, 1787, f. 141.

4. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for February 1788, f. 141.

5. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for November 1790, f. 141.

6. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for March 1791, f. 141.

7. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for 1792, f. 142.

8. Edward James Eliot to Mrs. Pretyman. September 25, 1792. The Kent History and Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C35/1.

9. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for 1793 and 1795, f. 142.

10. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. Mr. John Eliot's bill,  f. 389, f. 425.

11. Ibid.

12. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Executors of The Hon. Edward James Eliot, June 7, 1799,  f. 426.

Image Credit:

Sir John Soane by Samuel Drummond (1812). Accessed here.

12 February 2015

Lady Hester Stanhope's friendship with William Dacres Adams

The friendship between Pitt's niece Lady Hester Stanhope and Pitt's last private secretary William Dacres Adams continued long after Pitt's death. Although they first met in 1804, they quickly grew close to the point that Dacres Adams named his first-born son William Pitt Adams, with Lady Hester Stanhope acting as the boy's godmother. 

Sadly, Pitt's death at the end of January 1806 brought an end to one of the happiest times in both of their lives. Lady Hester was left in the difficult predicament of not knowing where she was going to be living, and Adams was temporarily without employment. Many years later, Adams would tell Lord Stanhope that Pitt's death was "the first great affliction" of his life. [1]

In the immediate aftermath of Pitt's decease, Lady Hester was staying at George Canning's house at South Hill, and on Sunday, 26 January 1806, she poured out her feelings to Adams: 

“…I am so anxious about Monday much less on my own account than upon another score, for be my fate what it may, I am prepared to meet the worst conscious that I have already received from Providence many blessings I do not deserve. Therefore, I have no right to expect more, yet my mind ever will retain its independence. You always temper the blast to the Shorn Lamb, and he has blessed me with a Spirit equal to bear any misfortune (unconnected with remorse) if I can support myself…You have no idea of the consolation it is to me that I received the last blessing of that beloved angel and that when forbid to see him (because it was thought he wd not know me) I took my own way and disobeyed continual commands. My voice recalled his scattered senses, and he was perfectly collected the Whole time I was with him, and when I departed and his ideas again became confused he continued to name me with affection. This proud prominence over the rest of the world will compensate me for many future sorrows which his loss must entail upon me.” [2]
She was right, for indeed Lady Hester Stanhope's life would never be the same after the loss of her beloved uncle. Around the time she later moved to Montagu Square, Lady Hester wrote to Adams, not forgetting his loyalty and kindness to her in a time of need:

 “…Believe me, I shall ever consider you amongst those few friends who are endeared to me by their sincere and disinterested attachment to that beloved angel [Pitt] who is no more. It would wound my feelings extremely if I c[oul]d suppose you thought because the tie is alas broken which first connected us, that let my fate in future be what it may, I s[houl]d ever lose sight of one who has uniformly shown him [Pitt] worthy of the confidence placed in him, and deserving of the friendship of the first mortals. This of itself wd be reason sufficient for me to continue to respect you as I have hitherto done. Did not the recollection of the many little kindnesses you have shewn me and my brothers have separate claims upon the friendship and good wishes of your ever sincere Friend, HLS.” [3]

When Lady Hester and her 'female companion' Miss Elizabeth Williams left England permanently in 1810, she inevitably lost touch with William Dacres Adams - but she never forgot him. Seven years later, in 1817, she asked her physician Dr. Meryon to write a letter to Adams on her behalf, and she dictated it to him. She was not a woman to easily forget those who hurt her, or helped her, through times of crisis. Adams was no exception. She wrote to Adams, reminding him that she “…never can forget that you were a kind friend to us in misfortune.” [4]

For his part, Adams retained his allegiance to Lady Hester throughout his long life. When in old age, Adams admitted to Earl Stanhope that he had heeded Lady Hester Stanhope's injunctions just after Pitt's death, and had kept a large stash of Pitt's private and political papers "in a cupboard the last half a century." [5]

It is fortunate for posterity that he heeded her advice, for many of Pitt's private papers in Adams' safekeeping have now been transferred by his descendants to The British Library. None of the papers have the trademark 'GL' to denote George, the Bishop of Lincoln's "approval" for them to be kept. Presumably, these were some of the papers that have escaped the flames of decimation.


1. William Dacres Adams to Philip Henry (5th Earl) Stanhope. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2.

2. Lady Hester Stanhope to William Dacres Adams. Sunday Night, 26 January 1806. The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/1, Letters 1-29, ff. 10-10(i).

3. Lady Hester Stanhope to William Dacres Adams. [undated, but between 1806-8] The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/3, f. 80.3.

4. Lady Hester Stanhope (in Dr. Meryon's handwriting) to William Dacres Adams. Mount Lebanon, January 3, 1817. The British Library. Dacres Adams MSS: 89036/2/3, f. 81.

5. William Dacres Adams to Philip Henry (5th Earl) Stanhope. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2.

9 February 2015

'The irregular hours of unfettered bachelordom': R. Guest Gornall on Pitt's health

William Pitt by W.H. Brown

In November 1957, R. Guest Gornall published an article in The Practitioner, Vol. 179 on the health of William Pitt the younger. Specifically, Gornall wanted to know what caused Pitt's early death at forty-six when both of his parents lived to old age. 

Was it hastened by the interminable all-night sittings in the House of Commons? Was it the inevitable consequence of the long-term stress associated with running a country for seventeen years? Did it result from the crushing disappointments of several failed coalitions, and the ill-fated Battle of Austerlitz? Perhaps a combination of all of the above? Or, could it have been something entirely different?

Whatever the actual cause of Pitt's death, we must be careful not to examine Pitt's medical conditions from a purely modern lens. With Pitt’s case in particular, recorded details of his health are vague. Physicians left little or no records, and biographers - lacking firm evidence - have focused on his political life instead. Indeed, Pitt himself persistently made light of his health to allay his mother’s fears. There could also have been a political motivation to downplay his health. He wanted others to believe he was in control, and could handle the pressures of office. [1]

Gornall believed that “the irregular hours of unfettered bachelordom"did not help Pitt's health. [2] It is questionable whether Pitt's marital state impinged upon his well-being, but it may have helped him to have a wife around to regulate his hours. 

So what were the potential causes of Pitt’s death?

Different explanations put forward have included a pyloric lesion (a recurring stomach ulcer), infective endocarditis (a heart infection),  and Typhus fever. 

William was not without his fair share of physicians. Dr. Anthony Addington was his childhood doctor until the age of fourteen, and Dr. Robert Glynn attended him at Pembroke Hall during his illness in the autumn of 1773. Dr. Hunter removed a cyst from Pitt's cheek in September 1786, and Sir Walter Farquhar was Pitt's personal physician from the mid-1790s up until his death. Lastly, Dr. Mathew Baillie (a nephew of the Hunters) and Henry Revell Reynolds examined Pitt at Putney in January 1806. 

From the 1950s medical opinion R. Guest Gornall consulted, he concluded that “a recurring upper gastro-intestinal lesion," accompanied by “cardio-respiratory changes hinted at in the final medical bulletins” (The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1806) caused Pitt's early demise. [3]

This post is primarily about Gornall's opinion, and obviously medical science has improved since that time. Nevertheless, at this distance, we cannot be certain what caused Pitt’s death. In line with Lord Liverpool's opinion, I doubt whether retirement from public office would have greatly protracted Pitt's life.


1. R. Guest Gornall (1927) 'The Prime Minister's Health: William Pitt the Younger,' The Practitioner, Vol. 179, p. 4

2. Ibid, p. 5. 

3. Ibid, p. 7.

8 February 2015

William Pitt's association with Lincolns Inn

The admissions register at Lincolns Inn Library shows that William Pitt, the second son of the Right Hon. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was admitted on 28 January 1777; at the time of his entry, he held an MA from Pembroke College, Cambridge [1]. This information corresponds with a letter from Pitt's mother Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt, dated 30 January 1777. In the postscript of her letter, the Countess of Chatham proudly boasts that, "William is gone this morning to keep his Term in Lincolns Inn...He is not quite 18." [2] Perhaps he was entered in the register on the 28th, but did not make his way there until several days later. 

By the end of 1779, William was residing at Lincolns Inn the majority of the time. He wrote to his mother on December 18, 1779, informing her of his address: 

“My Time has been pretty much taken up by establishing myself in my new Quarters here, and by my frequent Attendance on the debates…My Abode is for the present known by the name of Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn." [3]

The Black Books at Lincolns Inn indicate that he was called to the Bar on 12 June 1780. Other interesting and less well-known information regarding William's association with Lincolns Inn is that he was made a bencher of the Inn on the 28th of November 1782; his coat of arms were put up in the Hall on 14th May 1783, and the Inn received £9 9s 10d from Pitt as rent for his chambers in 4 Stone Buildings. [4] It is also known that Pitt was made Keeper of the Black Book for 1789, Dean of Chapel for 1790, Treasurer in 1794, Master of the Library in 1795, and Master of the Walks in 1796.[5] Lastly, the Black Books record that Pitt made a payment of £2 13s 4d for his chamber, supper, and purse on 6th November 1795. [6] After that date, it seems nothing further is recorded of Pitt's association with Lincolns Inn.


1. This information was obtained from Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library.

2. Hester, Countess of Chatham to Mrs. Pitt. 30 January 1777. British Library Add Ms 59490, f. 38. 

3. William Pitt to his mother Hester, Countess of Chatham. 18 December 1779, PRO 30/8/12, f. 127.

4-6. I am indebted once again to Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library.

3 February 2015

Remember William Pitt at Walmer Castle on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo

Detail of the original covering on William Pitt's chairs at Walmer Castle

Most of the buildings once associated with William Pitt the younger are sadly no more. Whether they've been demolished - like Hayes Place, Lauriston House, or Bowling Green House - or destroyed by fire - as was the case with Pitt's Holwood - little remains to posterity. Even Warren House, Dundas's Wimbledon villa from 1785 until 1806, has been altered beyond recognition. Now called Cannizaro House Hotel, the former Warren House, or 'The Warren,' was ravaged by flames on 14th October 1900. [1] 

By the beginning of 1806, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was grief-stricken over Pitt's death, and facing corruption charges due to financial mismanagement whilst he acted as Treasurer of the Navy. His dwindling finances also compelled him to downsize to a smaller property at Wimbledon before returning to Scotland. The fourth Earl of Aberdeen, then Lord Haddo, wrote from Warren House on 25th January 1806, two days after Pitt's passing, speaking of Melville's despair: 

"I never witnessed grief more poignant; he [Melville] almost wished to a general apathy to come upon him as the only relief, and declared that if he lived a hundred years it would be impossible to remain an hour without having the image of Mr. Pitt in his mind. He was glad to hasten out of this house [Melville's house at Wimbledon] where every object recalled him, indeed when I recollect that at the [oe] on which I write, I have seen him a thousand times, the bitterness of grief is past endurance..." [2] 

Around the same time, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson to the same effect:

"I am certainly very miserable, and as there is not an hour of my life for these twenty four years past that does not at this moment and for ever continue to bring his [Pitt's] image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can recollect a Ray of consolation...I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion." [3] 

It is almost impossible not to be affected when one reads this genuine expression of loss. 

The young Lord Haddo took over as the lease-holder of Warren House after Melville could not continue in that place. [4] Many years later, in 1852 the 4th Earl of Aberdeen (the former Haddo), would become Prime Minister, but this was long after his time spent at Wimbledon with his guardians Pitt and Dundas. 

A portrait of William Pitt hangs above his gaming table, chairs, and prints at Walmer Castle

What does remain in relation to William Pitt? In London, there is inevitably Number 10 Downing Street, and number 6 (now number 47) Berkeley Square, the home of Pitt's brother John, second Earl of Chatham. William lived with his brother there for a time. Outside of London, there is Burton Pynsent, the Somerset estate of Pitt's parents, but that is a private residence, and not accessible to the public. What is left? Arguably, the only public space where William Pitt's presence can still be seen is at Walmer Castle in Kent. The castle is currently undergoing major refurbishments in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Pitt's time as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was recorded in diaries of local residents, correspondence, and colonels commanding battalions of Cinque Port Volunteers under Pitt. 

There are still items of Pitt's furniture at Walmer Castle, and these include Pitt's travelling camp chair, writing desks, pembroke tables, a dining room table, and about twenty chairs scattered about in various rooms. Although the dining room chairs have been reupholstered in the nineteenth century, several still have Pitt's original green and white striped fabric with interweaving leaves. Pitt was fond of the colour green, the beauties of nature, and experiments with leaves, so it comes as little surprise that his choice of household decoration would match this interest. 

It will be exciting to see the changes at Walmer Castle later this year. Although Mr. Pitt died in 1806, nine years before the Battle of Waterloo, remember the sacrifices he made, and the political inheritances he left behind. Amongst recollections of later Lord Wardens such as Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother, and the Duke of Wellington, please also remember Mr. Pitt.


1. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 38.

2.  Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337. Aberdeen's 'Memorandum on Politics.' Entry for 25th January 1806.

3. Lord Melville to William Huskisson, 28 January 1806. Huskisson Papers, BL Add Ms 38759.

4. Matthews, T. (2010) Cannizaro: Beyond the Gates. Wesley, Surrey: Wimbledon Society Museum Press, p. 35.

N.B.: All images were taken by me during a visit to Walmer Castle.

30 January 2015

'Your most affectionate Brother': William Pitt & his brother John, second Earl of Chatham

William Pitt and his older brother John, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, may have had their ups and downs, especially after the very perplexing situation of late 1794, but they genuinely loved one another. Evidence of this bond can be seen in two surviving letters William wrote to Lord Chatham after their sister Lady Harriot Eliot died. Chatham was with their mother Hester, the Dowager Countess of Chatham, at Burton Pynsent, and William was with his brother in-law Edward James Eliot at Downing Street. William was burying his grief by transacting government business, and Eliot was understandably grief-stricken over the loss of his wife. 

Pitt wrote to his brother John, Lord Chatham on Sept 29th 1786, four days after Lady Harriot's death, to apprise him of the impending funeral:

“My dear Brother,

I have flattered myself with the hopes of hearing from you to day, as the Post could hardly bring much later news than the Messenger yesterday. Tomorrow I trust will more than confirm the tolerably good Account you were then enabled to send me. We go on here quite as Well as I could expect; and for myself It has certainly in the Effect been an Advantage to have been obliged to attend to some Objects of Business which could not bear delay. Eliot certainly mends, tho slowly. He expressed a Wish to day of attempting to write to my Mother, but I dissuaded it for the present, as thinking it too soon for Both. The distance would not yet allow of our hearing from his Brother, but I think He may possibly be here tomorrow, and I dare say not later than Monday, so that I am in hopes of being able to set out on Tuesday or Wednesday. The sad concluding Ceremony is to take Place on Monday. My kind Love to all. Ever Your most affectionate Brother, W. Pitt." [1]

Later that same day, Pitt wrote to his brother again after receiving a letter from him:

“My dear Brother,

I will not omit writing both to tell You the Comfort I had from your second Letter which arrived this morning, and to have the Satisfaction of adding that Eliot is more recovered since yesterday. I trust We shall neither of Us miss any Post till We meet, for I know how anxious my Mother will be to hear of us from day to day, and I am sure I shall not be less so to receive a constant Account of Her, and of you all. There would be no use in attempting to add any Thing more at this moment, for without expressing that our Feelings are all the same. Adieu. Yr most affectionate Brother, W. Pitt." [2]

This is the last of this particular chain of letters, but the brotherly bond and depth of affection is unmistakeable. 


1. William Pitt to his brother John, second Earl of Chatham. September 29, 1786. The National Archives, Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/101, f. 109. 

2.William Pitt to his brother John, second Earl of Chatham. September 29, 1786.The National Archives, Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/101, f. 111. 

29 January 2015

'You will not deny me what is necessary': Pitt the Elder's impecuniousness

Robert Pitt as a child (attributed to Sir Peter Lely)

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) had difficulty managing his purse from an early age. These monetary troubles began when he was at Eton, and became steadily worse as he went on to Trinity College in Oxford. Of course, the man paying for these early expenses was his father Robert Pitt, Esq.  (c. 1680-1727). It seems Robert questioned his son on his bills, as the subject of money comes up repeatedly in their correspondence. 

In about 1726, William wrote to his father Robert from Trinity College. He spent the majority of the letter explaining to his father why his expenditures were necessary, and then asked for more money:

Hond Sir,

I rec:d yrs of ye 25th in which I find with ye utmost Concern ye dissatisfaction you Express at my expense. To pretend to justify, or defend myself in this Case would be, I fear, with reason thought impertinent; tis sufficient to convince me of the Extravagance of my Expences, that they have met with yr disapprobation. But might I have leave to instance an Article or two, perhaps you may not think ‘em so wild and boundless, as with all imaginable uneasiness, I see you do not at present. Washing £2:2:0 about £3:6d per wk of which money half a dozen shirts at 4d each comes to 2s per wk shoes and stockings 1:19:0. Three pairs of shoes at 5s each two pair of stockings, one silk, one worested [sic], are all that make up this Article, but be it as it will, since Sir, you judge my Expense too great, I must endeavour for ye future to lessen it, & shall be Contented with whatever you please to allow me. One Considerable Article is a Servant, an expense which many are not at, and which I shall be glad to spare, if you shall think it fitt, in hopes to Convince you I desire nothing superfluous; as I have reason to think you will not deny me what is necessary. As you have been pleas’d to give me leave, I shall draw upon you for 25£ as soon as I have occasion. I beg my Duty to my Mother & am with all possible respect, Hon:ed Sr, Yr most Dutifull Son, W Pitt." [1]

Then on January 20, 1726/7, Pitt wrote to his father from Trinity College, once again on the subject of overspending. After writing a long list of his accounts, he writes, “…I have too much reason to fear you may think some of these Articles too extravagant, as they really are, but all I have to say for it is humbly to beg you would not attribute it to my extravagance, but to ye custom of this Place, where we pay for most things too at a high rate. I must again repeat my wishes for yr health, hoping you have not been prevented by so painfull a delay of ye Gout from pursuing yr intended journey to Town…" [2]

Robert Pitt died several months later, but his son's spending habits deteriorated further. By the time he was to marry Lady Hester Grenville in late 1754, the forty-six year old William was only half-joking when he wrote that "my infirmities and my Poverty are my best titles." [3]

The cycle of financial extravagance would repeat itself again in William Pitt the Elder's three sons. Many years later, Mrs. Pretyman-Tomline would write that William Pitt (the younger) was led into debt by “…the force of example and the want of precept." [4] The example Lord Chatham gave to his children regarding the use - or misuse - of money would leave a lasting impression. This nonchalant approach to money and debts was already being felt by his children in the mid-1770s. As usual, the person who bore the responsibility for picking up the pieces was their mother Hester, the Countess of Chatham

On April 8, 1777, Lady Chatham was forced to write a letter to Lord Chatham's nephew, Mr. Thomas Pitt, begging him for money. Her fifteen year old son James Charles Pitt, then in the navy, had accrued debts which she could not afford to pay:

…A circumstance has happen’d, which is as Painful as it was unexpected. The confidence I have in your taking an affectionate share in whatever concerns my Lords situation, and Feelings, makes me suffer less in finding it indispensable to me, to address my self to you, and recur to your Friendship. Our Son James, who for many Months has been station’d at Gibraltar, by an imprudence, pardonable only in Fifteen [James was 15 years old at the time] has run into a most unfortunate excess of Expence, and such as occasions a distress to me that deranges every Provision that with the utmost Attention, and the greatest difficulty to my self, I had been able to make to answer the different Calls of my Lord’s Illness, which you must know are of a very expensive kind. The Bills Drawn, of which I have receiv’d Notice, are to an Amount that I am ashamed to name. Every proper Precaution was taken at his going out to guard against such a circumstance happening, by not allowing Him [James] to draw without his Bills being indors’d by his Captain. But the ship cruising very little, and He being suffer’d to be too much on shore, He easily got from the Dealers in the Town every Article of Dress, &c, without Payment of ready Money, so that when the Time came for his exchanging from the Alarm Frigate, into the Surprise Captain Linzee, in order to sail for Newfoundland, he would not have had it in his Power to have left Gibraltar, had not Lieut. Hood, then in Harbor, android’s bills upon his own Banker for the necessary sum to put him at Liberty, which he did out of respect to the Family, and in so doing has indeed conferred a real obligation. We are every one of us equally surprised at this Conduct in James, as he had been remarkable for his Prudence on the Subject of expence, and was all acquainted with the reasons that required he shou’d be so. Genl Boyd out of Regard to his [James’s] Father, made him free of his House whenever the ship was at Gibraltar. This led him continually into Balls Assemblies, and Parties, which I imagine caused his being so cruelly indiscreet; and not paying directly, he was not aware, I dare say, of the extent of his Expence. This Accâblement, after the trials I have had so long to contend with, makes me like one astonish’d by a Blow. I don’t know where I am, for it is of the utmost importance to my Lord’s Recovery that he should not be acquainted with this circumstance. Is it possible my Dear Sir that you cou’d lend me your Friendly Aid on this occasion. It is what I wish to ask of you, and what I flatter my self without my explaining, at Present, further, you will think me not wrong in doing. I trust I shall have your confidence that in every thing I do, I am instigated by the most serious consideration of what is necessary, to be either avoided, or follow’d for the Great End of my Lord’s Recovery, of such infinite consequences to his Family and Friends. My Wish is, if it can be without too much inconvenience, that you wou’d allow me to draw upon your Banker, as far as a Thousand Pound. This will be more by half than the Demand, come to my knowledge, but it has distress’d me so thoroughly that I shall not feel at Ease without a reserve for fear of any accident, or as (thank God), my Lord, by being better, may think of a Journey, or something that may make an immediate call…" [5]

Mr. Thomas Pitt must have responded favourably to her request for money, because she pens him an obliging letter on April 18, 1777:

“My Dear Sir,

The Kindness of your Letter, in answer to mine, is such as makes me feel it impossible to find expression to thank you for it, in a manner that agrees with the sense I have of it. You have added to the essential obligation I have to you for granting my request, a hundred Pleasures, to which my mind has the greatest sensibility. You have indeed render’d the Favour you have conferr’d upon me, compleat entirely…[she is ill with a cold and cough] I have writ an admonitory Letter to my Son James, which I flatter my self will have the wish’d effect, and bring his mind, notwithstanding its Ardent and Lively Turn, to a right sense of his Errors, and the impropriety  of his Conduct…" [6]

Unfortunately, it was always Lady Chatham begging for loans in order to avert financial ruin. This cycle would repeat itself in her sons William and John, the second Lord Chatham, as they were borrowing by 1779.


1. William Pitt (the Elder) to his father Robert Pitt, Esq. April 29 [no year, but mid-1720s]. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, f. 10.

2.William Pitt (the Elder) to his father Robert Pitt, Esq. January 20, 1726/7. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, f. 18.

3. William Pitt (the Elder) to his sister Ann Pitt. October 25, 1754. The British Library, BL Add Ms 69289 873B, f. 71.

4. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline to her husband, the Bishop of Lincoln. Undated, but around late January 1806. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: T99/26.

5. Lady Chatham to Mr. Thomas Pitt. April 8, 1777. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, ff. 64-66.

6. Lady Chatham to Mr. Thomas Pitt. April 8, 1777. The British Library, Dropmore Series 2 - 69288, ff. 68-69.

11 January 2015

William Hoare's portrait of Pitt the Elder

A happy Pitt fan below a portrait of Lord Chatham at The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath (2013)

In the mid-1760s, the Bath artist William Hoare was commissioned to paint a portrait of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), who was soon to be elevated to the peerage. 

Hoare wrote to Pitt on June 2, 1766 to request a sitting:

“...[I] have the honour of drawing your Picture for the Hall of this City [Bath]; I hope you will excuse the liberty of this Letter, to present my Duty and Respects, desiring to be made happy by the Continuance of your Favour and Approbation. I shall be ready to attend your Commands in whatever manner shall be most convenient you, being Sr, with great Respect, Your most Obedient and Obliged Humble Servant, William Hoare. Permit me, Sr, to present my Respects to Lady Chatham." [1]

Pitt duly sat to Hoare for his portrait, and it was presented to the City Hall of Bath. Unfortunately, the painting did not stand the test of time. Only 6 years later, Hoare was writing to Pitt, now styled Lord Chatham, on September 26, 1772 to let him know that it would need to be re-done:

“…Mr. Brompton having informed me of the perished State of the Portrait I had the honour to draw for Your Lordship, I have the Mayors leave to borrow that which I did for the Town Hall, & will make an intire [sic] new one, with the utmost attention, & have the back of it painted over that it may last for ever." [2]

By the following February, William Hoare wrote to Lord Chatham to say that the painting had been completed. Apparently, it had been exposed to damp on the wall of the Bath Town Hall. The new version of the portrait would be sent to Chatham's Somersetshire estate at Burton Pynsent: 

“I have finished the Picture of Your Lordship which I desired to do to supply the place of the other which suffered from the damp of the Wall. It shall now have a sufficient priming behind, & it shall be sent to [Burton] Pyncent [sic] by the first good Opportunity. All in my house unite our best Respects to your Lordship, Lady Chatham, and the Young Gentlemen and Ladies." [3]

Lord Chatham was very unwell with a bad bout of 'gout' in early 1773, so his wife Lady Chatham wrote to thank William Hoare. The portrait was not yet sent to Burton Pynsent. In return, Hoare addressed a note to Lady Chatham from Bath on March 27, 1773. He mainly wanted to enquire when it could be sent to their estate:

“I have the favor of Your Ladyship’s very obliging Letter, and am very sorry that Lord Chatham has suffered with so grievous an Illness. I hope he will soon be free from it, with the advantage of this enlivening weather. My Picture is all ready. I am seeking an opportunity to send it and have one in view: I shall be very happy in Lord & Lady Chatham's approbation of it, which I have done with the utmost pleasure, and my greatest Respects accompany it. I shall ever retain the highest sense of their many Favours to me and mine. We All join with our best Respects to Lord and Lady Chatham, & to the Young Gentlemen & Ladies…" [4]

There the correspondence ends, and it isn't clear when the portrait was sent to Burton Pynsent. One such original Hoare portrait of William Pitt the Elder hangs in the reception parlour of The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath. I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing it there during one of my stays at the hotel in 2013. The portrait may be over 240 years old, but it is still in very good condition. It would make Hoare proud.


1. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 328. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, June 2, 1766. The National Archives. 

2. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337A. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, September 26, 1772. The National Archives. 

3. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337C. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, February 1773. The National Archives. 

4. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337E. William Hoare to Lady Chatham, March 27, 1773. The National Archives. 

9 January 2015

Lady Hester Stanhope's will

Lady Hester Stanhope's physician, Dr. Charles Meryon, wrote to her brother on April 29, 1825 to express his concern for her welfare. She was already in deep financial ruin, and she was fretting over what would happen to her beloved female companion, Miss Williams. Her faithful maid, secretary, companion, and friend had been with her since her uncle William Pitt was alive. Miss Williams was in Mr. Pitt's household first, and he took an exceptional interest in her and her sister Louisa, paying for their education and entire living expences. There was even the question of the parentage of the Williams sisters. Several great-nephews believed, by family tradition, that Pitt was the girls' father. Without any firm evidence, we may never know the truth of this rumour. There can be no doubt that Lady Hester Stanhope was extremely close to Elizabeth Williams, even referring to the girls as her "Childrenin a letter to William Dacres Adams

The immediate worry for Dr. Meryon in 1825 was Lady Hester's fretful state of affairs. Meryon wrote to Lord Stanhope, Hester's brother, confiding: “In another part, Lady H. makes the following apostrophe. “What wd. become of poor Williams if anything should happen to me! What means will she have of departing! Whom can she confide in, poor soul! This thought pains me often more than I can express!” [1]

Meryon felt it was necessary to send another English person out to be with Lady Hester Stanhope: "But enough has been said to shew the necessity there is that some English person should be sent out. For if Lady Hester’s anticipations are so melancholy as to what would happen to Miss Williams, if she were to die, it becomes a serious matter of consideration to Lady Hester’s friends what would happen to Lady H. herself if, by the death of Miss W. or by her departure, she (Lady H.) should be left in a manner deserted." [2] Whether her brother took the matter seriously, however, is questionable as it does not appear that any such person was ever sent to her. 

Miss Williams died after a brief illness in 1827, and Lady Hester survived - albeit in poor health - until 1839. In late 1839, the 5th Earl Stanhope, Lady Hester's nephew, was sorting out his aunt's will and affairs. Among Lady Hester’s papers at Coutts Bank, a will was found that was made in September 1807, several years prior to her departure from England. In it, she appointed her half-brothers, Charles and James, as her executors, and she left them all her weakened Fortune (which was gone long before her death). There was also a codicil whereby £500 would go to her Maid Miss Williams (who predeceased her), and a locket with Mr Pitt’s hair to the Duchess (by then a Dowager) of Richmond. [3]

Dr. Meryon, of course, went on to write her memoirs. Meryon knew a great deal about the friendship and long-term companionship of Lady Hester and Miss Williams. What more did he know, and not write?


1. The Kent History & Library Centre. Pitt MSS. Lady Hester Stanhope Papers: U1590/C235/1-3.

2. The Kent History & Library Centre. Pitt MSS. Lady Hester Stanhope Papers: U1590/C235/3.

3. Ibid.